London, our London
London has held my devotion for as long as I can remember. My favourite place in the world to visit was the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, travelling a few stops on the tube with my grandmother. My own children were both born in Hackney. I lived in the borough of Hackney for 15 years – four homes were in social housing – ranging from the 2nd floor through to the 15th.
The events that unfolded with terrifying speed and yet horrific slow motion at Grenfell Tower have been so close to home that I have deliberately failed to imagine them. I have switched off the news, averted my eyes, avoided eye witness reports. And yet the almost unbearable torment of the lost souls and their family, friends, has crept in.
I have my own brief experience with flames on the 8th floor, in a flat, asleep in the early hours. I was pregnant with our first daughter and I owe my life to my partner who shook me awake, having smelt smoke. Next door was on fire.
I realised then, and quickly, that had that fire taken hold, on the end of the balcony as we were, the furthest from the stairs, we would have been in real trouble. And yes, our public landlord was crappy back then. Like now there were no sprinklers or alarms. But there was not the raging divide between rich and poor and the rampant gentrification there is now. Our block was not clad in a flammable facade waiting to engulf the whole block if one person nodded off with a cigarette in their hand. An event, like the fire I woke up to, could have been a tragic accident, but an accident no less.
Grenfell Tower is no accident. Those who call for culpability are correct. Those who question why the media, even whilst poring over every gruesome detail and lapping up eye witness accounts, are strangely coy about the actual number of people lost, are correct. Those who criticise the use of the cladding, are correct. Those who question the laws and regulations that remain unmade and not updated, are correct. The clamour of voices in the last 48 hours, not least those of the residents who spelled out the danger over the years, paint a picture of multiple shortcomings, where organisations and public servants failed to listen, failed to respond, and failed to act.
Tonight, protestors are on the march in a broken city. I stand with them #JusticeforGrenfell